EXPERT OPINION

Addressing the classroom shortage

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The true value of education can be summarized in Nelson Mandela’s words, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” In today’s world where democracy and technology have given people the absolute power in nation building, the world needs well-educated masses. And it is always the government’s responsibility to provide its people the kind of education the world deserves.

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In the Philippines, we take pride in basic education as a right and not a privilege as mandated by the Constitution. ‘Section 1. The State shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels, and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all. (1987 Phil. Const.Article XIV, Section 1), and that it is the State’s responsibility to establish, maintain, and support this kind of education. (1987 Phil. Const.Article XIV, Section 2).’ The undertaking of this mandate however is not without challenges. One persistent crisis in our educational system is the shortage in classrooms as evident in some major public schools in Metro Manila. The Department of Education (DepEd)’s latest records shows that for school year 2012-2013 the classroom to student ratio was 1:75 for elementary and 1:74 for high school. This is below the mandated student classroom ratio of 45:1 defined in Section 3 of Republic Act 7880 (Fair and Equitable Access to Education Act).

To address classroom shortage, DepEd together with the local government units embarked on temporary solutions that include the implementation of double shifting and partitioning of some classrooms in some of the most overcrowded schools in Metro Manila. There is also the implementation of the education service-contracting scheme (ESC) under Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education (GASTPE) that contracts private schools to provide secondary education to “would-have-been” public school students. This means students who could not be accommodated in public high schools are being enrolled in private schools with a government subsidy.These initiatives at least helped some of the most congested schools to manage a classroom student ratio closer to the ideal 45:1.

On May 28, 2014, as if to show off its undying commitment to quality education, DepEd announced that three additional alternative solutions are being considered: the alternative delivery modes, busing system and three-day school week in several areas in Metro Manila.

Under the alternative delivery modes, students are required to go through their learning modules under parental guidance and meet with their teachers only once or twice a week for monitoring and testing. There had been some criticisms on the intentions and nature of the program but if we look at its advantage, it offers an alternative to all willing students to learn at home without going to school regularly. This would reduce number of students at schools while still providing students at home the means to learn and graduate, go to college and even go abroad.

Under the “busing” system, on the other hand, students from overcrowded schools are transferred via vans to nearby schools that have the capability to absorb large number of students. This one is promising especially that according to DepEd Secretary Armin A. Luistro, FSC, unequal distribution of students across the country and “lack of buildable spaces” are two factors that cause overcrowding in some schools and “an excess of classrooms” in others. While the government is still looking for potential school sites where new classrooms will be built on, the “busing system” is a good alternative for stabilizing if not equalizing, the student population in some most populated schools.

Last but not the least, the three-day school week scheme where students are required to attend classes for only three or four days but with additional class hours. This proposal hasn’t been implemented yet for it requires an in depth analysis and consultations with the parents and other learning institutions if indeed it would be an effective tool for learning. While it is good for some students to learn within a comfortable environment, it should also be considered if longer hours would or would not impede their learning capability. DepEd is still currently conducting further studies to ensure its effectiveness to the students.

The government’s commitment on its aims to broaden the access of students to quality education was shown on all of its effort to provide alternative solutions. For this we give credit to the DepEd on ensuring that the right to education is still made accessible to all amid the classroom shortage. These undertakings may not be the best solutions yet, but still we get consolation from the commitment shown by our government in its pursuit of DepEd’s EFA (Education For All) goal.

While we give credit to whom it is due, we still cannot deny the fact that what our country needs are better solutions. New classrooms and more teachers: these are the best solutions to address this problem without jeopardizing the quality of our education. Easier said than done though. The fact that classroom shortage has outlived the past governments says what kind of problem we are dealing with. But whatever the current government has to do to permanently eliminate this educational crisis, the end goal should always be for the betterment of its people to whom it is accountable. Somehow, knowing that the Aquino administration can show statistical data supporting its commitment to make education accessible to all is comforting. The priority of education in the national budget as shown in the 2014 education budget (P309.43 billion), the reduction of highly congested schools in the National Capital Region (NCR) from 120 schools in SY 2011-2012 to 20 schools in 2014,and the construction of 66,813 classrooms that would cover the 2010 classroom backlog left by the Arroyo administration are some beautiful things to be proud of. I know, we still have a long way to go but as long as everybody believes in the power of education and of what it could bring to this country and to the world, then there’s still hope for us Filipinos.

Amelita B. Nuguit, PhD, is Division Coordinator, Private Schools Unit in Quezon City Division Office of the Department of Education. She obtained her Doctor of Philosophy in Education Management from the University of Eastern Philippines, Catarman, Northern Samar. Dr. Nuguit is from Lavezares, Northern Samar.

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